Summary: Here are the facts: Percy is in love with his best friend. She doesn't know. He writes her anonymous messages in the bimonthly newspaper.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the Heroes of Olympus series, or characters I adopt from those books. Merely the characterization and plot are mine.
'Dear Annabeth,' Percy scrawls, 'your smile is the reason I wake up in the mornings.' He glances over his shoulder, only seeing a lone freshman intern. Clearing his throat quietly, he turns back to his paper and adds 'From Him.' He folds the paper up, pushes it into the drop box for the section of the newspaper titled Voices, slips out of the door, and tries to keep his heart from beating too fast.
Here are the facts:
Percy's in love with his best friend.
She doesn't know.
He writes her anonymous messages in the bimonthly newspaper.
When Percy arrives at Annabeth's dorm, she's just leaning out to pull the taped posters off her door. "Another party?" Percy smiles as she jumps and glares at him. "Scared you?"
"Shut up," Annabeth says, rubbing her eyes. "It's too early for sneaking up on people."
Percy swallows thickly, offering up his coffee. "Here."
"It's yours." She waves him off, but gives him a quick greeting hug. "Why are you up so early?"
"Uh, wasn't sleeping well. Thought it'd be better to just get up and face the day." Lie, lie, lie, Percy thinks. He wakes up early every other Monday morning so that he can be the first one in and out of the Media Room on deadline day.
"You aren't sleeping well?" Annabeth's brow dips in concern, and she reaches up to press her hand against his forehead, but he bats her away with a laugh.
"I'm fine," he insists. And he is, mostly, he just wishes Annabeth could understand the depth of every fond look he gives her; wishes she could see the way his hand constantly twitches with the want to find it's way to hers. Sometimes, Percy thinks, averting his eyes, looking at her hurts. In a good way.
"Wanna watch a movie while I do some Physics homework?"
Percy grins. "You know me so well."
"Yeah, yeah," Annabeth mutters, rolling her eyes, and Percy pretends that her smile is full of love rather than falling just short.
One week later, Annabeth's knocking on Percy's door, a notebook tucked underneath her arm and a doughnut in her hand. "Peace offering for interrupting whatever thing you're doing right now," Annabeth says, smiling tightly.
"Sleeping," Percy mumbles, inwardly sighing and outwardly not having enough strength to. So it seems college is more physically draining than he thought.
Annabeth reaches up and squeezes his shoulder, and Percy closes his eyes—because he's tired. Not because he's memorizing the feeling. "Can I come in?"
Percy laughs a little, shaking his head. "Always."
It takes two hours for Annabeth to get around to her point, but it happens.
"I think someone's talking to me in the newspaper," Annabeth blurts, halfway through an episode of How I Met Your Mother.
Percy jumps a little and tries to inject some curiosity into his expression. "Yeah?"
Annabeth shuffles, accidentally knocking her notebook off of her lap. She stares at it. "I think."
"What makes you think that?" Percy asks, deciding that's the safest of all the questions swimming through his mind.
"Well, they're addressing 'Annabeth'," she discloses, then falls silent. "Sadly, that's all the evidence I have." She scowls a little, tugging a hand through her hair. "I just don't understand—if it is me—then… why?"
"Why?" He huffs out a laugh, hoping he doesn't sound as hysterical as he feels. "Annabeth, you're the human embodiment of everything a boy in his right mind wants." And—well, that wasn't supposed to come out, exactly.
Annabeth shrugs it off, and Percy is equal parts relieved as he is exasperated. "Maybe, I guess. But most guys would just talk to me." She tucks her knees up to her chest and sighs. "This feels like something from a movie."
"Maybe that inspired him," Percy says, trying for casual as he shrugs and reaches for the remote. "As long as everything he's saying is nice."
Annabeth hums in response, but her eyes aren't directed on him—and Percy realizes that's the problem. It's always been the problem.
Biting the edge of his tongue, he rewinds the past five minutes of the episode.
'Dear Annabeth, you're beautiful. In an intimidating way. I love it. From Him.'
Percy peers up tiredly from his textbook. He's been trying to figure out his chemistry homework for the past hour, but it's not setting in as well as he'd hoped. Then again, staring at paper without lifting his pen probably had something to do with it.
Annabeth shoves something in his face, and it takes Percy no longer than three seconds to recognize it. She's holding a copy of the Valencia Voice—otherwise known as their slightly ridiculed school newspaper. Only people like Annabeth enjoyed it, which was something Percy thought about with a crushing amount of fondness. "School newspaper," he states, running his hands through his hair repeatedly so that his hands aren't idle.
"Listen!" Annabeth exclaims, plopping down in the seat next to him. He's in one of the common rooms around the dorms on campus, and there's an unsurprising lack of people there. Most prefer to gather in their dorms, anyways. Percy just needed a change of scenery. "'Dear Annabeth, you're beautiful. In an intimidating way. I love it.'" She slams the paper down into Percy's lap, dislodging his textbook. He catches it before it falls. "He loves it. I'm 'intimidating'."
"You're beautiful, also, if my eyes don't deceive me," he adds, squinting his eyes at the paper and glancing back at her. "I don't see it, personally, but—"
Annabeth punches his shoulder and yanks the paper out of his hand. "That's so—"
"I was kidding," Percy says, rolling his eyes and wrapping his arm around her shoulder. "You are beautiful. This guy seems to know what he's talking about. Any clue who it is?"
"He doesn't really drop any hints, what with the 'From Him' thing. And he never references any classes or common interests we may have." She folds one corner of the paper idly, and Percy lets his gaze rest on her face—on the tiny shadow her eyelashes create on her high cheekbones, which are the slightest bit red; on the freckle just below her eye. "Don't stare at me like I'm a science experiment!" Annabeth shoulders him, rolling her eyes. "Just because I'm showing interest in someone, or whatever."
"You're interested?" Percy asks, definitely too quickly.
Annabeth raises an eyebrow and shrugs one shoulder. "Why not? He is."
"Plenty of people are," Percy mutters. "Everyone likes you."
"Apparently not you, at this present moment," Annabeth retorts, leaning down so she can get a better look at him. "Everything alright?"
"Fine," he answers, trying not to make the answer as short as it is. Annabeth narrows her eyes and gives him a once-over. "Look, I'm sorry. Just stressed about chemistry."
Annabeth looks down at the work in his lap, like she hadn't noticed it before. Maybe she hadn't. "I'll help."
"You don't have to," Percy tells her, but it would be nice. Annabeth's the perfect teacher for him—impatient, and just enough of a pushover that she tells him the answer when he can't get it after two tries.
"I want to," Annabeth responds earnestly, locking their eyes. Percy turns away first and tries to act like his mouth hasn't gone cotton dry.
'Dear Annabeth, I feel like I know everything about you and you know hardly anything about me. Here's a hint: my name starts with a capital letter. From Him.'
Percy laughs as Annabeth reads him the latest message in an irritated voice. He's in his small kitchenette, pouring a bowl of cereal with milk that's a day or two past it's expiration date. Whatever. "He thinks he's funny." Annabeth starts pacing the short length of his room.
"He is, a bit," Percy points out. "That's pretty witty."
Annabeth flops onto his bed and rolls her eyes, folding the paper over her stomach. "It sounds like something you would say."
Percy laughs, a rapid, nervous bubbling of laugher. "Right. Funny," he manages, ducking his head into his Apple Jacks.
"Hey," Annabeth starts, in an enlightened voice—and Percy thinks this is it, she knows, finally. "Think it could be any of your friends? Nico? Or, uh, that one guy? With the hair?"
"Axe," Percy answers in a flat voice, blushing slightly. Axe and Annabeth have met twice—and she thinks it's him over Percy.
"Axe." Annabeth shifts onto her stomach, placing the paper on the compact nightstand. "I don't know. Seems unlikely."
"Anyone who seems more likely?" Percy questions, pretending to be interested in the back of the box of cereal.
"Well, Him isn't giving me all that much to work with," she decides. "I mean, what? All I know is he goes to this school, and his name starts with a capital letter. Doesn't exactly narrow down results."
Percy hums noncommittally, his heart squeezing in his chest, because now he has an ultimatum: give away more in his short sentiments, or continue the simple, sweet ones he uses.
He slurps milk from his spoon in the way he knows Annabeth hates. She sends him a pointed glare and he smiles winningly at her, but the grin falls when Annabeth purses her lips and looks away.
If Percy hates one thing in this world, it's when Annabeth is upset. He'd swim through a sea of scorpions and fly on a million planes before he let a frown stay on her face. "Hey," Percy says, shoving the cereal box aside. "Why do seagulls fly over the sea?"
Annabeth blinks. "It's where they get their food. Fish and clams, not to mention all of the things humans leave around beaches—"
And the answer was actually something to do with bays and bagels, but Percy listens to Annabeth talk about the birds for ten minutes before he tells her so.
'Dear Annabeth, I saw you reading Fahrenheit 451 yesterday. I don't know anything about the book, but you sure looked pretty reading it. You looked so focused... It was cute. From Him.'
"He's getting bold," Annabeth announces, slamming the latest copy of the Valencia Voice down, on top of Percy's open laptop. He picks it up and scans it like he has no clue what he's looking at, reads the message twice like he didn't fret over it for two hours before slipping it into the manilla folder.
"Very bold," Percy comments, swallowing. "Maybe more confident. Hey, actually, I was thinking about that—you know, how you said most guys would talk to you? Maybe this guy prefers to be anonymous."
Annabeth seems to mull that over, swishing her gingerbread latte through her teeth. Percy has a brief fantasy of kissing her and tasting it on her lips—he loves gingerbread and Annabeth. Absolutely nothing could go wrong with that. "But I don't know any shy guys."
"Maybe you guys haven't spoken," Percy shrugs, inwardly wincing. He partly wishes he could stop leading her away from the right answer, but at the same time he feels the thrill of the secret every time she acts like this.
"Yeah, but..." Annabeth trails off, scowling. "Wait. I was reading that book last Friday."
"Were you?" Percy asks, making his face indifferent while he files through Friday's memories.
"Yeah!" She shakes his arm with a manic grin. "I was reading it in the lounge room at your dorm! While you were showering!"
"Before we went to... Oh." And yeah. Percy didn't even think of that.
"That means he's in your dorm."
"He could have been passing through..."
Annabeth narrows her eyes. "You're throwing me off every lead I have."
He scoffs and rolls his eyes, a bad habit he got from Annabeth herself. "There's no 'leads'. This isn't an investigation, it's just some secret admirer."
Her brown pinches and her lips turn downward. "That was rude," she tells him, blatantly. "Maybe he's just 'some' anonymous guy but he's being a hell of a lot nicer than my best friend right now."
And that—well, Percy almost feels like screaming. She moves to stand up, but he latches onto her wrist and yanks her back down onto his bed, accidentally making his MacBook fall on the floor. He doesn't look at it. "I'm sorry."
Annabeth blinks at him.
"I'm happy for you," he tries again. "I just don't want to see you get hurt. I mean, we don't really know a lot about this guy."
"I know he likes me," she points out. "He's the first one in a while that hasn't only liked me for the physical perks of a relationship."
Percy winces a little, his stomach turning. Just thinking about other guys looking at Annabeth like that or treating her wrong... It makes his mind nearly white out with anger and jealousy. Pursing his lips, he reaches out and tugs Annabeth to his chest. "I'm sorry," he says again, softer, and Annabeth nods from where she's curled against his chest. "I'm happy for you."
"I know you are." She cuddles a little closer to him, and Percy's chest tightens. He loves Annabeth so much he feels like he's going crazy with it sometimes. They've been best friends since they were eleven, and all eight of the years following have been the best of his life. "I just wish I knew him."
"Maybe he doesn't want you to. Maybe you make him nervous," Percy says, somewhat daringly. He buries his face in her hair because they're close right now, and that's allowed. He thinks.
Annabeth hums softly, and he tightens his grip on her. "Heeey," she says suddenly, pulling back. Percy aches. "When's the last time we've had a movie night?"
"Two Saturdays ago," he replies with a grin, biting the inside of his cheek. She's still close to him; if he leaned forward two inches and bent down a little, he could be kissing her.
"Let's do that. That sounds like a good idea." She pauses for a second before reaching up and fixing Percy's shirt sleeve where it's folded over. "I miss you, you know?"
Percy knows. Percy knows so much, it almost hurts. "Yeah," he agrees. "We haven't seen a lot of each other this term."
It's been busy to say the least, what with Annabeth's courses being on the opposite side of campus from Percy's. She stops fidgeting with his sleeve, her eyes slowly making their way up his face. He feels self-conscious, and he lets himself believe that her eyes caught at his lips. (They didn't, probably. Wishful thinking and all that.) "Let's watch a movie," she says. "That one. With Sandra Bullock."
Percy grins at that, pinching his knee idly. "Sandra Bullock, huh?"
Annabeth rolls her eyes, and Percy almost leans forward a kisses her right then, throwing caution to the wind. "Yes."
"You hate her," he says smugly. "Are you trying to suck up to me? What do you want? You know she's my favorite actress."
"I just want to be nice," Annabeth whines childishly, dropping her head on his shoulder. Percy's heartbeat spikes dramatically, still not used to the affection. It's been eight years and he's still not used to the affection. "But you're being so smug about it, I think maybe I could just call up—"
"Noooo," Percy laughs out, wrapping his arms around her and nearly falling backwards on his bed. "Never let me go!" he shouts, nearly snorting when Annabeth punches him in retaliation, and—
Well, Percy knows that rule about every action having an equal and opposite reaction. And the opposite reaction of sitting up straight is lying down, and that's what happens. Except… Annabeth is on top of him.
Percy almost squeezes his eyes shut until it all goes away—it's strikingly similar to a dream he had junior year—but Annabeth huffs out a laugh right against his collarbone and yep. His eyes are wide open.
He could say a million things, but instead what comes out is "You punched me."
Annabeth leans back, folding her arms across his chest and staring up at him serenely. "Shocker," she deadpans.
Percy tries not to think too hard about the fact that Annabeth is lying on top of him. It fulfills maybe one-fourth of his fantasies. "Shut up."
"You shut up," she shoots back.
He has to physically bite his tongue to keep from saying 'make me.' "No, you."
Annabeth laughs again, shaking Percy's chest. He feels warm. "Movie night?" she questions, sitting up and fixing her hoodie as if she didn't just make his life worth living and ruin it at the same time.
"Yeah," he manages, sitting up straight and sounding annoyingly breathless. "Yeah, let's."
Six days later, Percy gets sick. Annabeth coddles him, texting his worried mother to keep her updated and giving him antibiotics.
It's Sunday night, and he doesn't think he'll feel any better by tomorrow. Which is Monday.
Annabeth quarantines him, constantly spraying disinfectant and washing her hands. Percy urges her to just go back to her dorm, but she rolls her eyes and says 'who else is going to take care of you?' so he stops asking.
There's a lot of things Percy loves. Goldfish, definitely. French vanilla cappuccinos. He's pretty fond of gingerbread, and pretzels, too. But Annabeth's attention it at the top of the list—bolded, underlined, italicized, and maybe even with a few poorly drawn hearts next to it.
So maybe he doesn't get to submit an entry for next week's newspaper. Whatever. Annabeth's petting his hair and sitting through another Sandra Bullock movie while she flips through a textbook on her lap, and Percy is very much in heaven.
It turns out to be a bad idea.
"Nothing this week," Annabeth says, dismal. She starts turning through the pages of the paper again, her brow furrowing.
"Maybe he was busy," Percy suggests with a shrug, his heart hurting at the touch of disappointment on her face. He knew that Annabeth liked the messages, but he had no clue that they would affect her mood if they went missing.
"It's stupid that I'm worried about him, isn't it?" She turns the paper over, folding one of the edges up. "I mean, what if he was in a car accident? Or something. Or like, what if he drank too much at a party and—?"
"You would date a guy who drinks?" Percy raises an eyebrow. Annabeth hates drinkers and smokers.
She shrugs. "Maybe. If he did."
Percy wants to tell her then, because she's so genuinely worried about her anonymous admirer. 'Funny story, actually, so I'm Him and I was sick when the submissions were due. That's why you don't have one. It's me. Your best friend. Percy.' He imagines she would either laugh in his face or storm out in anger, sure that he was teasing her.
"Don't jump to conclusions is my advice. Just look out for it the next time the paper comes out, and if there still isn't one, then it's something to worry about, okay?" He watches Annabeth's expression twist a little more, but she nods in the end. He goes back to his essay and types 'ANNABETH ANNABETH YOU IDIOT I LOVE YOU' under the paragraph he's working on just to erase it a few seconds later.
Annabeth clings to him for the next few days, not that he's complaining, but he knows what she's doing. It's a coping mechanism; when Annabeth is stressed or anxious, she hates to be alone. She says that it gives her too much time to think.
So, she's Percy's shadow in the days following, popping up every time he hangs out at the cafe for a few hours of studying or appearing at the library every time he goes in to borrow their printer. He's hardly accustomed to being the center of her world, so much that she texts to ask him what he's doing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; often meeting him for all three.
The following week, he writes two messages, unable to decide which one he finds more appropriate. He stares at them for ten minutes, and Annabeth almost finds out when she barges in with Chinese takeout.
"I hope you don't mind," she says, not looking the least bit sorry. Her eyes are shining happily, and Percy thinks oh no because he knows that look. That's her 'I met someone' look.
"You have your 'I met someone' look on," Percy greets, accepting the hug she offers him. He crushes the small papers in his hand, shoving them inside his pillowcase when she turns away for a moment.
"Because I did," she tells him, lifting her chin. "He talks like Him."
She says 'Him' like it's a proper noun, so Percy understands who she's talking about. "Well, tell me then."
"His name is Will." Annabeth sits down in front of Percy's too small and too short coffee table. He joins her at the poor excuse for a dinner table. "I got you Kung Pao Squid, you freak. I can't believe you eat that stuff."
"It's good," Percy half-heartedly argues, but truth be told, he's trying desperately to remember if he's ever met a guy named Will. "Tell me about Will."
"Pre-med," Annabeth says happily, and Percy shoves food in his mouth to cover up his disdain. "Tall. Broad shoulders—" Percy sighs dreamily for her, because he knows Annabeth has a thing for broad shoulders. She laughs and blushes slightly, and he wants to reach out and take her face in his hands. Instead, he eats more chow mein. "Um, blonde-ish? Dirty blonde, maybe, wasn't paying all that much attention to his hair color. Tan. Blue eyes, really pretty. Nice hands—" Percy cheers at that, being the supportive best friend he always has been. Annabeth grins. "Yeah, I know, hands can be a real deal breaker sometimes." He nods seriously, as if that's top secret information, and her smile widens. "I mean, he ordered the exact same thing as me at the coffee shop. I couldn't not talk to him."
"Ah, yes, soulmates defined by coffee orders," Percy mutters, and he doesn't really mean to say it aloud, but Annabeth thinks he's joking anyways so it doesn't quite matter.
"I know, but…" She trails off, chewing thoughtfully on her orange chicken. "I mean, who else orders a tall iced coffee in a grande cup with extra ice, three pumps of hazelnut, an inch of non-fat milk with a dome lid and a venti straw? No one. That's who."
Percy tries to wipe the fond smile off his face, but Annabeth's complicated Starbucks order is probably one of his favorite things about her. He smiles dumbly at his takeout box. "Sounds like a keeper," he manages.
"And," she continues, holding up a hand for emphasis. "Listen to this: he said 'would it be too forward if I called you beautiful?' Then, later, he said that he almost didn't talk to me because I was so 'pretty' that I was 'unapproachable'. That's a synonym for intimidating, right?"
Percy put his hands up in defeat, a little irritated that the guy was using his words, though indirectly. "I got a B in Freshman Comp, don't ask me."
"It is," Annabeth answers herself, stabbing a piece of orange chicken with her fork. "It can't be a coincidence, can it?"
Percy pulls his bottom lip into his mouth and bites until he's surely about to draw blood. "Maybe," he says, a few seconds delayed.
"I think it's him." She sets her food on the too low coffee table, stretching her legs out and nudging Percy's knee with her foot. "At least he's cute."
Percy bites his tongue by accident, but it doesn't stop him from blurting out, "Am I cute?"
Annabeth raises an eyebrow. "Yes…" she says slowly, clearly confused by the sudden topic change. "Why?"
"I mean… I just—like—I didn't mean to—"
"Spit it out," she half-laughs, smiling at him in a way that nearly sends him into a choking fit.
"I'm hot, right?" he decides, willing his tan cheeks to mask the red rising. "And not from a 'best friend' point of view. I just mean… In general. Because I'm not exactly getting offers left and right either, so—"
"Percy," Annabeth sighs, shaking her head. "Shut up." She squares her shoulders. "If anyone is intimidatingly attractive between us two, I'm sure it's you."
And—okay. Percy really wants to have this conversation, if he can keep from choking on his own tongue. "Oh."
"I'm serious," Annabeth says, laying her hand palm-up on the table. Percy stares at it. "Honestly. Do you know how many girls befriended me in high school just to be closer to you? A lot."
Percy wants to say that the guys did the same with him in an attempt to be a shoe-in for Annabeth, but the reality is that all the guys knew he was in love with her for the most part. He probably can't even count the amount of sympathetic shoulder pats he's gotten throughout the years. As much as women are supposed to be the intuitive ones, Percy thinks high school boys get it more than anyone. All he had to do was look at her once after a swim meet, and the entire team apologized to him in the locker room. As if being in love was something to be sorry for, Percy had thought at the time.
"Yeah?" he asks, probably two minutes later. "I just. I feel like no one looks at me, or anything."
"Then you're looking at the wrong people," Annabeth tells him simply, picking up her food again, and Percy just thinks you'rewrongyou'rewrongyou'rewrong.
'Dear Annabeth, I think it's about time I give away a small bit of my appearance. I have dark hair and light eyes. They're much less pretty than yours, though. From Him.'
It hadn't been in Percy's original plan to tell about his appearance so early on in the game, but Annabeth had spent the whole week moony-eyed over Pre-Med Will. And Percy was getting jealous. So sue him, he's in love with Annabeth. What else is new?
He feels some sort of sick pleasure when Annabeth sighs deeply as she enters his room with a copy of the Valencia Voice in her hand. She drops in on the floor at his feet and crawls into his bed immediately, pulling out her phone. "It's not Will."
"Oh?" Percy asks, nearly spilling his soda as he bends over to pick up the paper. He slides it onto his table. "What makes you say that?"
Annabeth rolls onto her stomach and buries her face in his pillow. Percy makes a face at her, one that looks annoyed, but in reality he's just stupidly in love. He has to make faces to keep from sighing dreamily or burrowing himself under the blankets with her.
She doesn't answer him, but she does make vague grabby hands in his general direction. "Lay down with me. I'm sad."
Percy's throat is very dry as he slides into his bed, shoving Annabeth over gently. She doesn't move, but he starts to card his fingers through her hair as well as he can with her curls. "You know," he says, his voice a bit croaky, "if you want Him to be Will, He can be."
"I'm not upset that it isn't Will," she speaks into the pillow, sounding distressed and muffled. "I'm upset that I'm back at square one, having no clue who it is."
"Well, he has dark hair and light eyes, right? That narrows it down."
Annabeth lifts her head up slowly, eyes narrowed at him. "How did you know that?"
Percy frowns. "I read the paper."
"No, you didn't," she accuses, moving to sit up fully. Percy holds her down. "I didn't hear you turn the pages."
"Your head was in a pillow," he deadpans, hoping to play the whole 'you're crazy' angle. "I doubt you were hearing all that great." She locks their gazes, her cheek flat against his pillow. Percy fuzzily thinks that he would really like to wake up next to her every morning for the rest of his life, but his blood is pounding in his ears, so it's a little hard to think all that straight. Annabeth narrows her eyes little by little until they're just little slits, making Percy feel uncomfortably transparent. He holds her gaze though, because he knows she'll call him a liar if he looks away.
Eventually, she drops her face back into his pillow again, groaning in irritation. He breathes out a silent sigh of relief and goes back to playing with her hair. "Maybe he'll give you more hints," Percy says. Annabeth only groans in reply.
'Dear Annabeth, I found out we're in the same year. That's pretty cool, huh? You looked adorable in that sweater, by the way. I kinda wanted to wrap you up in a blanket and hide you away from the world. You're too good to share. From Him.'
Percy wakes up Monday and buys a paper from the booth in the courtyard. He carries it up to Annabeth's dorm, letting himself in with the key she hid above the wide door frame.
Annabeth is still sleeping, which gives Percy a wry sense of satisfaction. He practically falls onto the bean bag in the corner of the room, watching her sleep for a minute before he realizes how weird he's being. Instead, he flips through the paper and settles on the comics drawn by art majors.
Annabeth wakes up within ten minutes. "Stop crinkling that paper," she mutters, rolling over. Percy smiles at her. She doesn't smile back.
"I was hoping you'd wake up. He thinks you're adorable, by the way." He tosses the paper over to her. Annabeth catches it with one hand and frowns, looking dangerously close to a disgruntled kitten.
"I don't even want to read it," she whispers, dropping it on the floor and turning to face the wall. "I don't have the energy to not know who he is anymore."
"He's in our year," Percy says, his heart sinking a little. She has to read his messages. It's the only way he can keep from blurting them out loud, and he even fails at that sometimes.
"How d'you know?"
"He says it." Percy kneels in front of her, picking up the paper and turning to the Voices page. "Here, I'll read it to you." His heart starts pounding in his chest as he stares at the words, and he thinks this could possibly be an example of situational irony. Here he is, pretending not to be the anonymous guy that he really is, and above all, he's reading not-his words aloud. It's all very messed up.
Annabeth shifts so that she's looking at Percy, nodding for him to go on. "Right. So I'll just… Okay. 'Dear Annabeth,'" he starts, clearing his throat, "'I found out we're in the same year. That's pretty cool, huh? You looked adorable in that sweater, by the way. I kinda wanted to wrap you up in a blanket and hide you away from the world. You're too good to share.'" Percy folds the paper up again, and he feels his ears turning red. He prays that his procrastination on getting a haircut is paying off, covering up his embarrassment. "'From Him', and all that," he finishes.
Annabeth stays quiet, and Percy pretends to be very interested in the front page story, something about a new, completely vegetarian restaurant added to the center on campus. "Are you okay?"
"What?" Percy sputters, clutching the paper so tightly that it rips between his thumb and index finger. She glances at that pointedly. "Yeah, I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be fine? I'm always fine."
"You aren't fine," Annabeth declares, sitting up in bed. Percy has to set his jaw and hold her eyes to keep from staring. He—he knows Annabeth sleeps in shorts, okay, but it's just. She has nice legs. Really nice legs. Really long, tan legs. It's distracting. The school should put a ban on them. He's never understood dress code more clearly. "You're fidgety. And you're rambling…" She reaches a hand forward, moving his hair away from his ears. He squirms away from her, pursing his lips. "And your ears are red. Are you alright?"
"Stop asking me that," Percy grumbles. "I'm fine."
Annabeth looks at him like he's transparent. He probably is. "And now you're blushing. Your ears only turn red for two reasons. Are you angry or embarrassed?"
"No, I'm not either, it's just hot in here—"
"Your ears never turn red when it's hot outside—"
"I didn't know my body had rules for it's reactions—"
"Are you even hearing yourself? I've known you for eight years, I think—"
"Can you just—?"
Percy squeezes his eyes shut and presses the heels of his hands against his eyelids, praying this is a dream. He considers all of his options; the truth, a lie, a really bad lie, or to just leave. "Your legs," he ends up saying, which… Well, he can roll with that, he guesses.
Annabeth's face goes blank. "My… legs?"
"I'm—" Percy cuts himself off and continues to cover his face. "Please put on sweatpants. Or jeans. Or something that, you know. Covers. Your legs."
"I need you to cover your legs please," he says, partway groaning. He hates himself. He hates Annabeth and her stupid legs. He also hates his impulsive side. "With more clothes."
"So now I'm not allowed to wear shorts?" Annabeth asks, but she sounds bemused. Percy keeps his hands over his face as he hears the sheets shuffle and Annabeth rifling through her drawers. It's only a few minutes before she says, "Okay, coast is clear."
He doesn't move his hands from his face. "Alright. Thanks."
"Are you going to look at me now?"
"I'd rather not," he answers drily, face-planting her bed and tossing his arms over his head. Annabeth laughs softly, and Percy—he hates love. Love is dumb.
"A little embarrassed that I can't handle myself around my best friend at the moment," he mutters, half-hoping that Annabeth doesn't hear it. She does.
"'Handle yourself'? Dear God, Percy, just go walk through the freshman corridor. You'll get laid. One cannot blame a friend for sexual frustration." She's laughing at him still. Percy groans into her bed sheets and tugs at his hair.
"It's not sexual frustration," he tells her. "Just to clear that up. I've gone 19 years without it, I think I'm fine." The proper term is probably romantic frustration, Percy thinks.
"Really?" The inflection in her voice shows surprise. "You haven't?"
"Don't you think I would have told you?"
"I mean, I guess so. But I just assumed. Not many hot guys remain virgins in college, it seems."
"Yeah, well. I'm one of the few, I suppose." He sighs, begging his face to stop blushing. "Sorry about that."
"I still don't really know what happened, but yeah. You're forgiven," Annabeth tells him easily, like her best friend wasn't just asking her to put on pants because her legs were too much to handle. "You're weird."
Percy takes this as his cue to sit up straight. Annabeth settles down on the bed again, this time in blue sweatpants he's almost positive are his. He nearly drops his head again; Annabeth in his clothes is almost worse than Annabeth in shorts. "Sorry."
"You said that," she reminds him, watching his face carefully. His cheeks are still red, he's sure of it, and he knows his hair is in disarray. Annabeth smiles. "We're all good now? Think you can go the rest of the morning without getting a—?"
"Please don't say that," Percy interrupts quickly. "That was so not going to happen. I'm—please no. You're my innocent Annabeth, no dirty words leave your mouth ever."
"I'm your innocent Annabeth?"
Percy inwardly curses himself. "That's not what I meant." It is completely what he meant. Percy likes to think he has dibs, by this point.
"Yeah, I know," she says with an eye roll, but her smile is somewhat fond. Hopefully fond. "I just like seeing you blush. Reminds me that you're human."
When Percy gets home to his dorm that night, he stares silently at the wall for twenty minutes and contemplates what his life has become.
'Dear Annabeth, you see me every day, you just aren't looking hard enough. I love your hair when it's down, all I can think about is running my hands through it. From Him.'
"What's he saying today?" Percy asks, trying for bored but falling somewhere between more-excited-than-Annabeth and kid-at-Disney-world.
She reads it aloud in a soft, affectionate tone, and Percy pinches his knee twice. Because—well, that voice is for him. Basically, anyways. "He's so sweet," Annabeth adds, folding the paper so that the message still faces up. She looks out the window, bright grey eyes full of curiosity and wonder.
She leans forward, placing one hand beneath her jaw and dropping the other on the table. Percy stares at it, and he's halfway to taking her hand when Annabeth says, "I can't wait to meet him."
He pretends he's reaching for a sugar packet. "I hope he's as great as he seems to be."
"He has to be," she says confidently. "I know it." He fiddles with the sugar packet and watches Annabeth look around the room, outside the window, behind the counter... Everywhere but him. "Who do you think it is?"
"Don't know," Percy tells her immediately. "Almost wish I did."
Because I want you to be happy, he thinks. "So I can hold it over your head, obviously," he says.
"I see him every day," Annabeth mutters. "But none of my classes are every day. Where do I go every day?"
"My dorm," Percy says immediately. "Building," he adds, not smooth at all. "Building. My dorm building."
"True," Annabeth agrees. "So we've established he's in your dorm building." She stresses the word just as Percy did, making him laugh.
"Dark hair and light eyes," he adds, pouring the sugar on the table and pushing it around with his index finger. Annabeth sighs, slaps his hand away, and cleans up the mess.
"You always make life harder for employees," she mutters, but he thinks she's smiling. "There's so many people with light eyes and dark hair, there's no telling."
"Maybe look for people who are staring at you?"
"I should write him back," Annabeth says suddenly. "Maybe if I let him know for sure I'm seeing them, he'll give more information."
Percy pulls his bottom lip into his mouth and nods. "I mean, yeah, I guess."
"You don't think I should write him back." And it's not a question; it's a statement. Because Annabeth knows him like she knows every line of National Treasure, and it's obvious he disagrees.
"I don't," he admits with a shrug. "I mean. He'll probably come to you, in his own time. Right?"
"Judging by the pace of our whirlwind relationship, I'm sure," she deadpans. "Hey, do you know what time submissions open? I'll probably want to go before class."
"Ye...No. No, I don't know. Sorry. Never really visit those parts," he fibs, picking at his croissant. They're at his favorite cafe on campus, but he can't eat or drink a thing.
"It's fine." She shrugs, picking up his croissant and pulling off half of it for herself. "I'll just ask around."
"Okay," Percy says, begrudgingly, "but I still don't think it's a good idea."
"Why are you so against him?" Annabeth grumbles under her breath. She shoots Percy a hard look. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you didn't want me to find him."
"No, I do, but—"
"Are you jealous or something?" Percy holds his breath. "I mean, even if I did get a boyfriend you know I would never ditch my best friend." He exhales.
Jealous of myself, he thinks wryly. "'M not jealous."
"Then why aren't you looking me in the eye?" she questions, leaning down. He looks up at her, and it hurts. He looks away. "We can even double date! Seriously, I'll—"
"Annabeth, you're practically planning a wedding with a guy you've never even met," Percy snaps, dropping his hands in the table. A few heads turn towards them at the ruckus, but most know better than to involve themselves in an argument. "You've already got your heart set on someone who could be... disappointing. Or a smoker and a drinker and thirty-seven for all you know!"
Annabeth stares at him, stone-facedly. "Please go."
Percy raises his eyebrows. "Seriously? You're asking me to leave for protecting you?"
"I don't want to see you right now," she says simply, her voice wavering, and Percy can almost feel his heart shatter. She's about to cry.
"No, hey, no no no, I'm sorry, I—"
"Please just go," she says again, looking out the window.
"Annabeth," he says, a lump rising in his throat. "Annabeth?"
She doesn't answer him, so he sits back in his chair and waits.
The worst thing about Annabeth is that even when she's mad at you, she doesn't stop being pretty. Percy watches as she pointedly stares out the window.
Ten minutes later, he leaves money on the table and walks out the door. When he passes by the window on his way out, he thinks he sees her crying. He clenches his teeth and keeps walking.
'Dear Annabeth, I have to admit that I haven't been completely honest with you. We've talked. More importantly, I walked past a coffee shop and saw you crying. I hope whatever was wrong works out. I can't stand to see you cry, even if you still manage to look pretty somehow. From Him.'
Annabeth ignores Percy for three days. Radio silence. No texts answered or sent, no calls picked up, and not a single acknowledgement if they crossed paths. He tries to pretend his heart hasn't shriveled up until it became no more than a coffee bean, but. Try being inseparable for eight years, then not speak for three days. It has detrimental effects.
So, at the end of three days, after Percy probably cried a little in the shower (but who can tell, really? Lots of warm water was falling down his face), he flips through the phone book.
He finds a flower shop not far from the campus and writes down the number. Then he spends twenty minutes Google-ing the meanings of flowers. He's hoping to find one along the lines of 'I'm sorry for getting jealous of myself I just love you so much sometimes I feel like I'm going to burst with it also we should kiss' but his search results aren't giving him much to work with.
In the end he decides on red tulips because they mean 'undying love' and he's pretty sure his devotion isn't fading anytime soon, if eight years is any hint. He'll probably be 90 years-old following Annabeth around in his walker.
He calls the flower shop and places an order for eight red tulips, offering to come pick them up because the price for delivery is just too much to be swingable. Which probably isn't actually an adjective, which only reminds him that Annabeth isn't here for him to ask.
He buys two boxes of pour over butter popcorn and splurges on a 12-pack of Dr. Pepper. Mostly because he loves her too much to not overindulge her, but somewhat because her forgiving him would be nice.
The flowers turn out the be an armful, is the downside, so he can hardly knock on her door by the time he makes it up there. It takes him a total of five minutes and three poorly executed elbow-knocks to realize that she isn't home.
And, alright. He'll admit that he had been hoping for her to be moping around like he was without his best friend, but he'll take what he can get. He arranges his items on the floor and slides down the wall to sit next to them, pulling out his phone.
He replies to a three-day old text from someone in one of his classes asking about an essay due the next week. He sends his mom a quick update of his life and even goes as far as to scroll through Facebook while he waits. Eventually, he stands and checks for the key that usually sits on the ledge above her door, but nothing's there. It feels like a pointed message.
Annabeth doesn't arrive for more than an hour, which leaves Percy staring anxiously at the flowers. A few girls have walked past him and engaged in a short conversation, asking if he was waiting for his girlfriend, and it killed him to say "no" every time.
When she does get there, though, Percy smiles like an idiot. She's carrying Chinese takeout—for more than one, definitely—and a beverage from Percy's favorite cafe.
She smiles softly when she sees him, too, and calmly sits in front of him. They're blocking the hallway, but Percy can't find it in himself to care as Annabeth's knee nudges his. She scrutinizes him, cocking her head to the side. He likes when Annabeth stares at him, but that doesn't keep him from breaking their gaze and ducking his chin. "Hi," she says.
"I was waiting on you," he tells her, pulling at the strings on his hoodie.
"Me, too," she admits with a soft laugh. "I was knocking at your door for ten minutes before a guy told me you had left a while ago. Thought maybe you'd gone home to see your mom or something."
Percy shakes his head, pushing his hair out of his eyes. He really does need a hair cut. "Nope. I'm here."
"I see that," Annabeth answers, staring at the flowers next to him. "You've outdone me."
"It was my fault," he says, shrugging. "I have more to apologize for."
"Nah." Annabeth gives him a once over, almost looking confused. "I'm sorry."
"Me, too," he sighs out, his chest nearly caving in with relief. "I shouldn't have—"
"Let's finish this inside," Annabeth suggests, standing up. She digs her key out of her pocket and unlocks the door before gathering the coffee and food.
Percy follows after her, kicking the sodas under her bed and setting the popcorn on top of the microwave. He hands her the flowers. "There's eight. One for every year."
"Thanks," she tells him with an aching amount of softness. "They're pretty."
He bites back the 'you're pretty' that rises to the front of his mind. "Yeah, well. I'm sorry."
She lays the flowers on her cramped kitchen counter and opens her arms wide. "Come on. Hug it out." Percy steps forward and presses his laugh into her hair, and his coffee bean heart grows to the size of, oh, a killer whale.
"No more three day fights."
"No more fights period."
Percy hums in agreement before stepping back, but Annabeth yanks him closer again. "I'm not done," she says.
Percy has had quite a few defining moments in his life with Annabeth, the first being the realization that he had a best friend. After that, the normal things followed; first roller coaster ride, first sleepover, first science fair. Then the not-so-normal ones: first crush, first potential-girlfriend, first love. Now, he thinks first potential-wife. He thinks he'd like that.
"Hey," Annabeth says, nudging his side, "I love you."
And it stings when he says it back, but he holds her tighter anyways.
'Dear Annabeth, the days I don't see you are the worst of my life, melodramatic as that sounds. I'm almost sure that I'm in love with you. From Him.'
"You think he really loves me?" Annabeth asks, flipping through the remainder of the paper. "I mean, it just seems unlikely. Since we've never met."
"He says you guys have talked," Percy reminds her. "It's possible." He's been working on the whole 'getting jealous of himself' thing. He thinks it's going well. Annabeth only shrugs in response, watching Percy as he works through his chemistry. At some point her eyes on him will become too much and he'll have to put his pencil down so she doesn't realize his hands are shaking, but for now he really needs to understand ionic bonding.
"I just want to know who he is," Annabeth whines, laying her head on the table. They're in the library and, by far, are the loudest people present. The librarian has given him dirty looks at least three times.
"He'll tell you." Percy sets his pencil down, only to dig through his bag for a calculator. "I mean, no guy would go through all that work and not get the girl."
Annabeth hums as her answer, but she doesn't stop staring at him. Percy focuses on breathing deeply, and they sit in silence.
He'd be lying if he said he didn't regret starting the whole 'secret admirer' thing. Not only is it the only thing Annabeth can find to talk about, but it makes it that much harder to bite his tongue. He's almost admitted it to her three times now; once when she looked sad, once when she looked happy, and once when he was in a position that made it easy to kiss her.
"That one's wrong," she informs him, tapping a problem further up his worksheet. "You put the dots in the wrong places."
"Lewis Dot Structures are fucking dumb," Percy states, erasing his work. "As if I'm ever going to be sitting around and think about what an element's Lewis Dot Structure is."
Annabeth chuckles, leaning her head on his upper arm. His body temperature jumps up by a few degrees and he smiles dumbly at his paper, but she doesn't notice either. "It's just work. Do it."
"Says the one who's naturally amazing at chemistry," he grumbles, shrugging his shoulder in an attempt to jostle her. "And everything else, probably."
"That's a lie," Annabeth refutes. "I'm not good at painting ."
"You don't try anymore. You were great in eighth grade."
"That was then, this is now."
"I'm serious," Percy says, deciding to take a break from his work. He turns towards her, raising both of his eyebrows expectantly. "Name five things you aren't good at."
"I'm not good at skiing," she lists, "or snowboarding."
"You've never tried them!" He shakes his head and laughs. "I promise, there's not one thing you're bad at. You have perfect genes. It's an outrage."
"I'm bad at killing bugs."
"Yeah," Percy says, fondness so blatant and soft it could be cut with a butter knife. "Yeah, but you have me for that."
"My hero," Annabeth scoffs, pressing her face against his shoulder. "So that's one."
"One thing you aren't good at! Better alert the presses!" He's being loud, so much that he gets several dirty looks, but she laughs so it's worth it.
"I'm not good at… kissing," she decides.
Percy doesn't blush. He hopes. He also weighs his options as far as replies go; ends up settling on, "Says who?"
"Well, no one's ever told me I'm good at it." She rolls her eyes, but Percy takes personal offense. Of course the love of his life is good at kissing. She's just not kissing the right people. For example, him.
"You're good at kissing," Percy says. "There. Done. It's been said."
"But you haven't kissed me! It doesn't count. The same way I can't say that I'm not good at skiing."
And, well, Percy's not sure how he's supposed to interpret that. Is it an invitation? He's open to invitations.
"Besides," Annabeth continues, "you have to say that. I'm your best friend."
"I don't think 'best friend' and 'kissing' are really in the same boat." Percy shakes his head, but he's smiling now. He's usually smiling around her anyways, even around the crushing feeling in his chest. He's a champ, honestly, they should give him a medal.
"You wouldn't want to marry your best friend?" Annabeth asks innocently, picking up Percy's calculator and entering random numbers. "I mean, I think that would be fun. To have a best friend and a husband in one."
"Are you saying you want to marry me?" And, oops, he's flirting with his best friend.
Annabeth looks up from the calculator slowly, cocking her head to the side. "Are you opposed?"
"Well, I don't know," Percy admits, leaning back in his chair. "I don't know if I should commit, since you're such a bad kisser."
She shakes her head with a smile. "I'm sure I'd learn."
Percy's thought process is an endless stream of profanities and declarations of love. "Would you?"
"Given that I had a good teacher," she adds. "Which you probably aren't."
"But I'm an amazing kisser," he boasts.
"Says who?" Annabeth leans forward, her body language reading 'oh, this is gonna be good.'
"Jamie Jennings, eighth grade," Percy states proudly.
Annabeth's eyebrows shoot up. "You kissed Jamie Jennings?"
"I know, right?" He laughs, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "It was at Tyler's birthday party."
"You kissed her at her brother's birthday party? Do you have a death wish?"
Percy shrugs. "She said that she usually did it when her brother's friends came over."
Annabeth looks contemplative. "It makes sense, though. Eighth grade was when you started to get hot."
Percy doesn't choke. Just. He's suddenly developed a very serious case of bronchitis that leaves him hacking up a lung. "Thanks," he manages to say, his eyes watering a bit from the coughing fit. "I didn't know you thought I was hot."
"I didn't know you were a good kisser according to Jamie Jennings, homecoming queen and most popular girl of the senior class," Annabeth retorts.
"So now the fact that I'm a good kisser changes everything?" Percy's okay with change. He adapts easily.
Annabeth rolls her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I'm practically dying to know if she's right. Hey, I was thinking, we should go see that new Disney movie some time."
"Definitely," Percy breathes out. And he doesn't think about kissing Annabeth in the back of a movie theatre. He just doesn't.
'Dear Annabeth, sometimes I just want to hold your hand. From Him.'
"Straightforward," Percy comments.
"Confusing," Annabeth disagrees. "One second he says he wants to date me, and the next he wants to hold hands? Are we in kindergarten?"
"Most people in a relationship do hold hands." He feels a little hurt by her comments, but he also knows that it's not fair to be upset. After all, she doesn't know that she's in the presence of Him. "I think he's nice."
"Maybe you should go after him then," Annabeth mutters. "Hey, think you'd have any better luck finding him? Like asking around your dorm or whatever?"
"Maybe," Percy says. "I can if you really want me to."
Annabeth's quiet for a few seconds before she squeezes Percy's shoulder. "Don't worry about it. Thank you, though." As she's taking her hand back, it slides down the length of his arm for a moment. He closes his eyes and let's himself pretend that he can reach out and intertwine their fingers.
"I'll help the next in line!" Percy nods over to the open window, smiling at the woman behind the counter as they approach. "Hi, we'll take two for Frozen?"
"Is that a question?" Annabeth teases from his side.
He shoots her a look. "We'll take two for Frozen." The woman nods, verifying that the time they want is the 2:30 showing (it is) and telling them to enjoy the show, handing over the customary tickets.
"I'm excited," Annabeth says happily, latching onto his arm like he's escorting her. "I've been waiting forever for this and the ratings are so good. Look! Popcorn. Are we getting some?"
There are times in Percy's life where he feels like he wants to cry. This is one of them. "Of course," he tells her, sniffling a little. She's so cute he almost wants to hit his head on the walls of the theatre. Don't they put concrete behind the screens? He needs that.
Another employee rips their tickets, and Percy thinks back to the first time he and Annabeth went to the movies together. "Remember when we saw Spider-Man?" Annabeth asks, and he winces.
"Yeah, I was just thinking about that," he answers, smiling. We're soulmates, he thinks, we even have the same thought process. Kiss me. Kiss me right now. "That was fun."
"Definitely filed under 'best days of my life,'" Annabeth agrees, and Percy's heart swells up a little. "Popcorn, now? I'll pay for this since you covered tickets."
He knows well enough not to argue, and he doesn't even complain when Annabeth requests enough butter to cause a coronary.
Halfway through the movie, Annabeth is delighted beyond comprehension. Annabeth is usually the mature one between the two of them, it's surreal to see her acting like a child—bouncing in her seat and laughing at every funny word said. He spends more of his time sneaking glances at her as opposed to watching the movie.
There's a loud sound that Percy doesn't understand, given that his eyes weren't on the screen, but Annabeth jumps and fumbles for his hand. She grips it tightly, but not nearly as firm as her grip on his heart. He hates his life, a little.
Except, even after the moment's come and gone, Annabeth doesn't move her hand. Percy's almost positive his palms are sweaty and shaking, but he slowly tangles his fingers with hers in a very unconventional way. And then he continues to smile stupidly for the rest of the movie, because he's almost positive this counts as holding hands.
Annabeth is bright eyed as the movie ends, still very much joyous and childlike. Percy frowns at her every time she looks away, just to spite the cuteness she currently possesses. "That was the best movie I've ever seen," she says. They're still sitting down, Annabeth's hand is still very much in his, and Percy doesn't even know how the movie started or ended. She turns to him. "Did you like it?"
He nods immediately, smiling at her. "Yeah. It was great."
"I think so, too." Her voice is softer. Percy loves the sound. They're quiet for a few seconds, a gentle grin still on Annabeth's lips. "We should go."
"Right," he says, but he doesn't make a move to get up. She doesn't either. His heart is pounding; he's pretty sure it's just going to pop out of his chest and fall on the ground, morbid as the image is. "Let's go, then."
"Okay," Annabeth says, and it's almost a whisper.
She stands, letting go of his hand, and Percy is determined not to be hurt by that. They exit the theatre, throwing out the remainder of the popcorn and trying to make their limbs work after two hours of disuse.
The walk back to the school isn't far, so they don't call for a cab. Percy has to suppress shivers every time Annabeth moves in closer to offer a stranger more of the sidewalk, which leaves her arm and hand brushing up against his. He clenches his fist and tries to remember the way her hand felt in the theatre, but it's never as good as the real thing.
He walks her to her door like a gentleman should. "I'll see you later," he tells her, because they always do see each other later.
Annabeth smiles a little wickedly. "Mhm. But, hey, next time we go to the movies, I recommend actually looking at the screen every once in a while." She shuts the door in his face.
He blinks at the white wood. "Fuck."
The worst part is, he's not even ashamed enough to blush. He turns on his heel and heads to his dorm.
'Dear Annabeth, a little bird told me you like broad shoulders. I might have them. This crush on you just isn't going away... From Him.'
"That's good, right?"
"Yeah, of course."
"Okay." Annabeth rolls her eyes as she turns over to face-plant her bed. "Let's have a lazy day."
"And do what?" Percy questions, smiling as Annabeth's hair fans out messily around her.
"Talk. Sleep. Watch How I Met Your Mother."
"Talk?" He flops onto her bed and kind of ends up halfway sprawled across her back. She makes an irritated sound but doesn't tell him to move. "What about?"
"Just talk," Annabeth answers quickly. "Play 20 questions. I'll go first. Do you know who Him is?"
Okay, so Percy's lied before, but he's never been a fan of direct lying. He's usually more of a skirt-around-the-answer type. "We'll never know if we know Him until he reveals himself."
Annabeth groans in agreement. "I wish he'd get around to it. And get off me, you weigh a ton."
Percy rolls off her. "Right, so, my turn. First crush?"
"He's too old for you," Percy says with a frown.
"That's why he was a crush and not my boyfriend. First kiss?" Annabeth turns to face him. He wants to kiss her.
"A girl named Lacy. Friend of my cousin's." He pauses. "Favorite color?"
"I've been liking lavender lately." She pauses, looks away from him, and picks at her sheets. Her toes hit his underneath the sheets and it makes him shiver—half because her toes feel like she marinated them in an icebox and half because the moment with her feels so intimate. "Got your eye on anyone?"
"You, currently," Percy answers with a grin, covering an eye.
"Shut up, I'm being serious. There's gotta be someone you like."
"I don't like anyone." It's not a lie, not technically, since he's far past the point of liking Annabeth. "Got everything I need, anyways," he mumbles, closing his eyes. Annabeth's toes assault his ankles, making him jump. "Stop, you're cold," Percy whines.
"Baby," Annabeth teases. "Remember that one time you cried when I said I didn't want to be your friend?"
"To be fair," Percy says, lifting his index finger up, "I was eleven. How was I supposed to know you were joking? It was hurtful."
He hears more than sees Annabeth shift, but next thing he knows, he has a mouthful of blonde curls. "I'm sorry. You were pretty sensitive, though."
Percy suddenly feels very tired. He thinks of all he's put himself through in the past few years, and he's almost sure that if this 'getting the girl' thing doesn't work out, he'll move to the mountains and become a recluse. "I know," he mutters.
"A little," he admits sheepishly. "But I'm fine. Is it my turn to ask?" He feels her nod. "Alright, um... What do you hope Him is like?"
It's a selfish question more than anything, but nothing can stop him from asking it. He needs to know if he needs to step up his game and fit the expectations Annabeth lays out. She hums thoughtfully, her hand coming up to fiddle with his shirt sleeve. "I want him to be nice."
"No," Annabeth grumbles. "Shut up." Percy laughs more to himself than anything and wraps an arm around her back. He's okay with cuddling. More than okay. It's highly acceptable, even if her cold toes are pressing against his ankles. "I want him to be, like, kind of laid back? Since I'm not, I guess. To have someone to balance me out. And I just want him to like me, really. That's it."
"That can't be it," Percy says disbelievingly. "You've gotta want more than that."
"I just hope we get along," Annabeth sighs out. "If I ever meet him, that is."
"No, you will," he repeats. "Anything else?"
"I don't want an earth-shattering first kiss."
Percy is quiet. "Why not?"
He feels Annabeth shrug where she's burrowed against his chest. He's very warm and very content. "I just. I don't want it. It would be better if it just felt like kissing my best friend."
Two things happen. Percy stops breathing, and Annabeth moves even closer to him. Her hand on his arm feels like a knife in his chest. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Annabeth says. "I just want it to feel right. And, like, we both know I'm not the most experienced person, so it'd be nice to have him be understanding. God, I'm so whiny today."
"No, you aren't," Percy says, almost offended. "You're allowed to be vulnerable. He'll appreciate that."
"He better," Annabeth grumbles, making Percy smile. He pulls her closer and feels something like hope.
Annabeth's expectations of Him are practically seared onto the back of Percy's eyelids, which is probably why he writes something stupid.
'Dear Annabeth, it'll feel like kissing your best friend. Promise. From Him.'
So, after he scrawls it on the small submission slip, he stares. He stares at the words written by his own hand and wonders why he did this to himself. He stares and wonders why he had to be that guy that fell in love with his best friend. He also wonders why turning the paper in seems more complicated than it really is.
It's Sunday night, and by this time next week Percy's best friend will know he's in love with her.
He slides the paper into his wallet, turns over, and goes to sleep.
As soon as he drops the paper into the manilla folder, he realizes this is it. No ctrl+Z command, no delete button, no backspace or rewind. This is it.
He takes a step back and stares at the yellow-gold of the folder. He wonders if anyone's been keeping up with his submissions; if they'll notice that this is the last one. He wonders if it is the last one.
He continues walking backwards, feeling oddly like he's breaking the space time continuum or fate's plan or something, but instead he trips over his shoelace. He ties it with a mildly bruised ego and a sick sense of hope and hopelessness twisting in his chest.
Percy goes to Annabeth's room that morning with her favorite coffee in his hand. When she smiles at him, sleepily but gratefully, Percy has the realization that things in the next week will never be the same as they are right now.
"Hey," Percy says tapping her nose as she drinks her coffee with closed eyes. "Hey, hey, heeeey."
"What?" Her voice is still groggy from sleep. He grins hugely at her, but she doesn't see.
"I'm glad you're my best friend."
She makes a disgusted noise. "Get your sentiment away. It's too early for that."
"Damn," Percy mutters. "I was hoping to get an early morning bonding sesh in."
Annabeth snorts lightly, moving over. "You may sit by me."
He smiles and sits next to her, biting his cheek before he wraps his arm around her shoulder. She leans into him immediately. "You're the perfect height for my shoulder," Percy says, and he hates himself. Because this happens sometimes; he says things with this palpable wonder coursing through them like he can't believe Annabeth's real.
"I've thought about that before." His jaw drops a little in shock, but he picks it up quickly. "You're a good height for me, too."
"Real life puzzle pieces, I tell you," Percy says, falling just short of joking. Damn.
Annabeth nods though, blindly grasping for his hand, pulling it from around her shoulder. "No, but seriously, look—"
And then he's holding her hand. Properly. For the first time.
"See," she says, but Percy's staring at the freckle just to the left of her eye. "They fit."
Percy swallows, not all that easily, and looks at their hands. "Yeah," he manages. "Yeah, they do."
The second he hears his door open, he knows a few things.
First and foremost, he knows she's found his extra key that he lost at her apartment a month ago. After that he knows that she closes the door just a bit too quietly for it to be unintentional. The last thing he knows, though, makes his stomach drop.
He considers pretending he's asleep, but he can already hear her kicking off her shoes, which gives him the impression that she's not leaving anytime soon. He takes that as a good sign.
"You up?" she whispers, and he hears her walking closer. For the first time in a long time, he feels scared in her presence. Usually he's content and comfortable; the way he should be in front of the girl he loves. This time his throat is dry and his heart is pounding—which he guesses shouldn't really be anything new.
He makes a decision. "Yeah, I'm up."
"Oh," Annabeth says, like she hadn't been expecting a reply. "Alright."
Percy winces when he hears the distinct sound of a newspaper being folded. "Yeah. Hi."
"Hey, turn over." She pushes his shoulder, almost playfully, and Percy feels like he's setting himself up for a letdown when he rolls over. "Hi."
He doesn't look at her. He has a feeling it'll be one of those times where looking at her hurts. "Read the paper?"
There's no positive or negative inflection to her voice, and Percy knows she's neutralizing it. That's nearly enough to make him turn over and ask her to go away simply to save himself the embarrassment. "And?" he somehow says, though he can't even hear himself say it due to his erratic pulse.
"It makes sense," she decides. "I mean—it all, you know. Yeah." He nods. "So…"
Percy throws his elbow over his eyes and closes them as tight as he can. "I love you," he says, so quickly he's not even sure if he actually pronounced the syllables. He may have just grunted. He clenches his jaw after that, but the knot in his chest unwinds a little now that he's admitted it aloud. "Like. Love you. For real. In a completely non-best friends way."
"I got that part," Annabeth tells him, sounding like she wants to laugh. She's quiet for a few seconds, and Percy tries to calm his heartbeat just enough to hear her steady breathing. He thinks about all the times it's soothed him before, and he wonders if it'll work this time. "Would it be weird if I asked you to look at me and say it?"
Percy presses his arm closer to his face and tucks his bottom lip into his mouth. "No."
"Then can you?"
He bites his lip. "No."
This time, she does laugh. Annabeth pulls at his arm, and Percy bats her hand away on reflex. "Please?"
"No," he repeats defiantly.
And then, for some reason, Annabeth pinches his side. He squirms and jerks away, glaring at her. She smiles, raising her eyebrows, and Percy… Percy is very much in love.
He thinks of the first time he met her, right at the end of fifth grade. He thinks about how he'd found her curly hair interesting since he himself had straight hair. He thinks about sixth grade, when he and Annabeth had a sleepover instead of going to the Valentine's Day Dance because no one had asked them. He thinks about every memory from the start until where they are now, and he'll be damned if there aren't a million more things to come.
"Right," he breathes. "Okay. Um…" Annabeth chokes out a laugh. "Stop laughing at me!"
"I'm sorry, it's just—" She shakes her head and pinches her nose. "Just say it, you wimp!"
"I'm not a wimp, I just wrote to you in the newspaper for months excuse me—"
"Percy," Annabeth says, drawing out his name.
"Annabeth," he says back, in the same tone. She rolls her eyes, but smiles after, and Percy realizes his heart isn't racing anymore. He bites his cheek and stares at the freckle to the left of her eye. "Say your Starbucks order."
Annabeth raises an eyebrow. "Is this some weird kind of—?"
"Shh!" He lifts a hand and locks their gazes. "I'm serious. Say your order."
"A tall iced coffee in a grande cup with extra ice, three pumps of hazelnut, an inch of non-fat milk with a dome lid and a venti straw," Annabeth recites, narrowing her eyes slightly.
Percy lets out a defeated breath. "Yeah. I love you."
Annabeth purses her lips, but she ends up smiling anyways. "Okay."
"Okay?" Percy asks incredulously. "All that trouble just to—"
And then Annabeth leans close. Very close. Closer than she has ever ventured. Percy, before he truly knows what he's doing, tilts his chin forward until their lips align and—he's kissing her. He makes a belated, startled noise, which makes Annabeth laugh, so he takes it as his cue to pull back. "I'm sorry, I… I would have made that a lot better. Impulsive."
She shakes her head. "No, it was perfect. Like kissing my best friend."
"Like—" She kisses him again, and Percy completely forgets where he was going with that sentence. He stares at her. "I'm going to be so pissed if I wake up and this is a dream."
Annabeth laughs and shakes her head. "Nah, I pinched you earlier. You would have woken up."
"But what if I dreamed the pinch and—"
"Remember how I said that I didn't want the first kiss to be earth-shattering?" she interjects, keeping her face entirely too close to his. He feels drunk, but he manages a nod. "Redeem yourself. Third kiss. Let's go."
It's so Annabeth to order him in that way, that he's smiling when he finally presses his lips to hers. And it is earth-shattering, because Annabeth pulls his face back in right when he moves away; because he's so ridiculously in love that he would probably swim across oceans for her; because Percy is very much kissing his best friend of eight years, and he's been in love with her for five out of the eight. It's exceptionally earth-shattering when Annabeth bites his lip a little.
It's a half hour later that Annabeth says, "Jamie Jennings was right."
So, Percy laughs and kisses her with already swollen lips. "Dear Annabeth, I love you. From Him."
"Ugh," she groans, pushing him away. "You're disgusting. I can't believe I just made out with you for half an hour. I'm regretting this already."
He smiles, because he can't stop smiling, and pushes his nose against her cheek. "Hey. Hey. Heeey, Annabeth."
"What," she deadpans.
"I love you."
"Ugh," she says again, hitting him with a pillow. It feels a lot like love to Percy.
When Percy sends Annabeth flowers, he always writes 'From Him.'
He holds her hand in public because he can; kisses her cheek because he wants to; smiles at her like she's his world because she is. His mom swears she doesn't cry when he tells her, but he's almost positive she does. Sometimes he just stares at Annabeth, and she looks back, and Percy finds it very surreal that her eyes are on him now.
Everything she does makes Percy feel like he's falling more in love with her, which makes him feel stupid—he hears so much about how young love doesn't last, but he and Annabeth… He thinks they could.
Here are the facts:
Percy's in love with his best friend.
He thinks he'll marry her.